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Developmental Stages of Children's Drawings

These stages are taken from Bob Steel’s Draw Me a Story: An Illustrated Exploration of Drawing-as-Language, ©1997.

Scribble

This stage is typical of children between 18 months and 3 years.

  • Scribbles are random. Children are exploring art materials in a playful way.
  • Scribbles move from uncontrolled to progressively more controlled.
  • This stage allows children to learn to hold a pencil as well as to determine whether they are left or right-handed.
  • While you may not see it, some scribbles are named. The child will point to an object found in the scribble.

Scribbling helps children with:

Physical Development

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Fine and gross muscle development
  • Hand manipulation

Language Art

  • Naming or labeling
  • Conversation

Penmanship

  • Stroking
  • Finger dexterity
  • Fine muscle control

Guidance

  • Self-confidence
  • Independence
  • Initiative
  • Enjoyment

Pre-Schematic Stage

This stage is typical of children between the ages of 2 to 4.

  • Drawings become more complex, although they are usually unrealistic.
  • Children will tend to use their favorite colors, rather than represent objects in accurate colors.
  • Drawings of people are very simple with few features.
  • Objects in drawings float in space. They are not anchored.
  • “Tadpole Figure People” are drawn with a very large head on a small body with extended arms.
  • Interiors and exteriors are shown at the same time. (X-Ray Drawings)

Children continue to develop increased hand-eye coordination, fine and gross muscle development, and self-confidence during this stage.

Additionally, they are developing increased abilities in:

  • Observation
  • Thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Feelings of competence

Schematic Stage

This stage is typical of children between 5 to 8.

  • Drawings of people become more proportional and more detailed.
  • Colors become more realistic and stereotypical (grass is green, the sky is blue).
  • Skyline and ground lines start to show.
  • Children have a schema about a way of drawing. For example, a house will be drawn the same way in many drawings.
  • Children will often create stories to go along with their drawings.

At this stage, children will be developing skills important for art, science and mathematics including:

  • Trial and error
  • Patterns
  • Shapes
  • Numbers
  • Interpretation

Preteen Stage

This stage is typical of children between 9 to 11.

  • Drawings become far more detailed.
  • Much more spatial perspective is evident.
  • Children at this stage may become very frustrated if they are unable to create a realistic picture.
  • This is the time when children may express “I can’t draw.”